Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The Ultimate Vespa Movie

Update: In my original post I forgot to mention what a movie like Jessica (which, I reiterate, is not a good movie) tells us about the American film industry in 1962: basically, America was desperate to keep up with the Italians. Italian movies were very popular around the world, Italian film studios were increasingly in-demand for American productions and often superior to the deteriorating American studio facilities. The story of American films in the '60s is that U.S. domination of the movie business -- the domination we take for granted now, for better or for worse, and which everyone took for granted in the '30s and '40s -- was no longer a sure thing; Rome, and later in the decade London, came closer than anyone ever had before to supplanting Hollywood as the movie capital. In this atmosphere, there were a number of American attempts to copy Italian movies, and that's what Jessica is: it's Jean Negulesco's attempt to make an Italian-style movie to prove he's in step with the times. The fact that the movie doesn't work, and that it comes off as a bizarre international cartoon version of what a good Italian movie is like, sort of makes it interesting.

Also, I forgot that Maurice Chevalier gets two songs with hilariously bad lyrics by someone named "Dusty" Negulesco, whom I'm assuming is the director's son. This proves that a director's son can in fact provide worse lyrics than Robert Altman's son did for M*A*S*H. And when Chevalier sings that Jessica has turned the town "upside down," Negulesco cuts to an establishing shot of the town, yes, turned upside down. Cutting-edge cinema from the man who brought you The Best of Everything and Boy On a Dolphin (another key milestone in Hollywood's ongoing attempt to leech off Italian cinema).
Update: As noted in comments, Dusty Negulesco was actually Jean's wife, a former actress named Ruth "Dusty" Anderson. Here is a brief recap of her career and some pictures.

I am a resident of cold-land and cannot think much, let alone write much other than gibberish. But I should note that one of the ultimate early '60s movies, Jessica, is on TCM tomorrow at 2:45.

When I describe it as one of the ultimate early '60s movies that's not to say it's a good movie. It isn't, as you can tell just from a brief outline of the story: it's about a Sicilian village thrown into turbulence by the presence of a hot motor-scooter-riding American midwife (Angie Dickinson), where the wives (including the young Sylva Koscina) decide to go on a sex strike so they won't have babies and therefore can force Dickinson out of work. It's just that it's a snapshot of what the movie industry was all about in the early '60s: vaguely sexual content with no actual sex, expensive location shooting combined with corner-cutting in other areas, and an international hodgepodge cast that includes Angie Dickinson (American), Maurice Chevalier (French), Gabriele Ferzetti (trendy Italian) and character actors from all over the place (Noel-Noel, Marcel Dalio, and Agnes Moorehead all turn up). Plus it was directed by that expert in bloated widescreen chick flicks, Jean Negulesco. The U.S. movie industry was in a shambles in the early '60s; this is one of the movies that reminds us of how and why.

I also have some affection for this movie -- from what I've seen of it; I won't have seen the whole thing till it's on TCM tomorrow -- because it's one of the few films that gave Angie Dickinson a starring role; after this she went back to playing the token woman in action movies (before finally landing her own television series), but like the other "lost starlets of the '60s," she definitely could have been a big movie star in an era with more and better leading roles for women.

This movie is also famous among Vespa motor scooter buffs for the fact that Dickinson rides one and also posed with a Vespa for the publicity shots (this is one of those movies where the publicity photos may be better than the actual film).

There is a clip from the movie on YouTube, slightly out of synch and with Portugese subtitles.


Anonymous said...

"This proves that a director's son can in fact provide worse lyrics than Robert Altman's son did for M*A*S*H."

Yes -- but didn't Arch Hall, Jr. penned the lyrics for the ridiculous songs he performed in his father's EEGAH? This stuff makes Mike Altman and "Dusty" Negulesco's work seem like Mercer or Harburg...

Anonymous said...

Dusty Negulesco was Jean's wife. Her name was Ruth Anderson and she was an actress prior to marrying. I am a life-long family friend.